For the better part of the 2020-21 NHL season, the Scotia North Division had luckily been untouched by COVID-19. There was little to worry about in terms of postponements and seemed like the areas of Canada surrounding the North Division had done a very good job at keeping cases and outbreaks to a minimum. That is until the news broke involving the outbreak with the Vancouver Canucks — at this point 25 players and staff have been infected by the virus.
Now, this definitely needs to be the focus of the organization for the sake and health of everybody involved, but at some point there will be questions surrounding when/if the team will get back to playing. With the playoffs slowly slipping from Vancouver’s grasp, it might be as good a time as ever for the Cancuks’ management to look ahead to the future of the organization.
This is on every team’s agenda after the season and looking ahead. For Vancouver, however, not playing games could give the Canucks’ brass an opportunity to look ahead to either re-signing their own unrestricted free agents (UFA) and restricted free agents (RFA), or view the potential UFAs that become available.
Vancouver has several notable UFAs at season’s end, including Brandon Sutter, Alex Edler and Jordie Benn. It remains to be seen whether any of those players would return next year. While Tanner Pearson was recently re-signed to a three-year extension, guys like Edler could take a pay cut to come back along with Sutter — Benn might look elsewhere. One of Vancouver’s issues all season long has been their secondary scoring, so it’s safe to assume that a few changes could be coming. However, this is not the group that Canucks fans need to be worried about. That section is resolved for a few notable RFAs.
The Canucks have found a way to lock up a few of their core players including Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko, but there are a couple more names from that group that have yet to be re-signed. Both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will be RFAs after this season with the expectations of a significant pay raise for both players. Pettersson (when healthy) has shown elite levels of play averaging nearly a point-per-game pace (.93 in his career) and could command anywhere from $8 million average annual value (AAV), to north of $10 million AAV.
Hughes has also flashed stretches of brilliance and elite production from the blue line and produced big numbers, including 53 points as a rookie and 16 points in 17 playoff games. However things pan out, it will be Vancouver’s top priority to get both those guys signed before the 2021-22 season.
Trades At The Deadline and Beyond
Yes, Vancouver sits in fifth place in the Scotia North Division, behind the Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot — the Habs have eight more points than the Canucks. For Vancouver to even have a shot at the postseason, they would need to go on a run of roughly 15-2-2 over their final 19 games, putting them at a 67-point pace, which is about the pace Montreal is on.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, it’s understandable how the Canucks might be viewed now as a non-viable trade partner (both in the standings and the COVID-19 hit), especially for a team within the division. Still, it’s a chance for Jim Benning to get an early look ahead as to what players could become expendable.
If teams are still interested in making a move with the Canucks, what players would be on the block? The easiest name that comes to mind is Jake Virtanen. He’s a guy who has been in talks all year long and if a team is looking to take a relatively young player and put him in a new environment, that could be something Vancouver explores. Sutter (who was mentioned earlier as possibly returning on a cheaper contract), is another name that could potentially be moved at the right price. If salary is retained, there could be a few interested parties.
Seattle Expansion Draft
Another obstacle that teams are facing this offseason: the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken. We’ve already seen a blueprint as to how the Vegas Golden Knights approached the expansion draft — a similar situation could transpire for Seattle. The nice thing about the Canucks is they might be in a favorable scenario with the players they expose.
There are two players who are exempt who Vancouver doesn’t need to worry about: Nils Hoglander and Hughes. After that, there are a few obvious choices. Pettersson, Boeser, Horvat, J.T. Miller, Nate Schmidt, Tyler Myers and Demko seem to be safe bets to be protected. This still leaves room for a couple guys, but players like Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Michael Ferland and Braden Holtby could be exposed. If Vegas decided to choose one of those players, it would be a bit of cap relief for the Canucks if they are to get Hughes and Pettersson locked up.
There is a lot to factor in over the next six months, but now might be as good a time as ever to start figuring out the financial implications and what players will be around for the 2021-22 season.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.